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3D Printing: A new technological frontier
From experts to novices, anyone with an idea can make a difference.
Are you tech savvy? Well, it’s easy to admit you can’t live without your computer and that you’re fairly lost without your smartphone. Just beware. The next wave of technology may take a little getting used to. But don’t worry; simply ask someone a bit younger to explain 3D printing.
If you’re lucky, that young person will be Jacob Banooni, 12, of Bloomfield Hills. He’s a seventh-grader at Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills who is totally geeked about his school having a 3D printer in its new Innovation Hub that just opened a month ago.
He admits he’s watched every YouTube video available about 3D printing. Somehow he has them catalogued so neatly in his head that he can recall exactly which one will solve the problem he and his teacher ran up against in printing bright orange plastic saws for Hillel first graders to use in their project.
Rather than buying more of the saws designed for little hands to safely cut cardboard, Jacob suggested they could just print them on their 3D printer, which creates three-dimensional objects layer by layer from a plastic filament by following a computer-generated design program.
It was a perfect solution … until they hit that snag in the program that left the backside of the saw unfinished. By working collaboratively, Jacob and Trevett Allen, director of innovation, are solving that problem.
“It’s a lot more fun doing this as a team than doing it myself,” Allen said. “He’s my right-hand man. He has a whole resource in his head.”
The technology fits right in with Hillel’s learning philosophy.
“That’s what I love about this,” said Joan Freedman, director of curriculum and the library. “We are taking digital natives [young people who grew up with technology] and we are using technology to solve problems. We are taking education in a new, relevant, useful way.”
Aside from printing small trinkets — a tiny traffic cone, a small animal sculpture, several joined links and a comb — a group of students have used the 3D printer to help create a sign for the Hillel computer office
that lets students know if their laptops are repaired and ready to pick up. And there’s a tie-in to a website that will provide the information online, too.
“Welcome to their world,” said Steve Freedman, head of school. “We are giving them the tools and experience for them to be successful. Imagination is limitless if you give them the space, the tools and a problem. The 3D printer is one tool among many.”
Use of 3D printing has revved up in recent years and grabbed more attention, especially in medicine with the printing of affordable prosthetics, artificial vertebrae (see sidebar, page 45) and more, but the technology itself is three decades old. In 1984, Charles Hull created a solid imaging process known as stereolithography for use in industry.
Hull founded South Carolina-based 3D Systems, one of the largest makers of 3D printers in the world. The other is Stratasys, which merged in 2012 with Objet, an Israeli company. Stratasys has dual headquarters in Rehovot, Israel, and Eden Prairie, Minn. Both companies now are headed by Jewish men — Avi Reichental at 3D Systems and Israeli David Reis at Stratasys.
At first, applications for 3D printing were industrial. As opposed to traditional reductive manufacturing, where parts are hewn from raw materials, as in tool and die work, additive manufacturing creates something from nothing by adding layer upon layer of molten material directed precisely through inkjets following a computer-generated three-dimensional design until the desired object is formed. There is little to no waste and a prototype can be made cheaply, quickly and customized easily on a computer.
Automotive companies, including those in Detroit, were among the first to use industrial 3D printers, which are massive compared to the desktop versions now available to consumers.
“3D printing is used in a lot of areas at Ford,” said Lon Zaback of Farmington Hills, creative operations manager, design. “In design, the benefit is being able to efficiently produce a prototype part from a 3D computer data set.
“We’ve been using 3D computer modeling to develop automotive parts for decades, but those parts are on a computer screen and we need to create real parts that we can touch and feel.
“Traditionally we’ve used milling machines, which at the basic level are drill bits attached to a computer-controlled arm that reproduces a digital surface in clay or other materials. This is a great tool for generating outside surfaces of parts like exterior forms, but doesn’t work as well when a part is hollow or when an interior surface also needs to be developed.
“3D printing uses the same 3D coordinate data as milling, but is superior for generating those more complex components,” Zaback said.
“For example, we design radio knob surfaces that are doughnut-shaped with an opening in the center for an illuminated volume icon. A traditional milling machine might only be able to develop the outside of the part, but a 3D printer can ‘grow’ the part producing the inside and the outside at the same time, which was not previously possible.
“We also use 3D printing to generate highly detailed textures and intricate details that are not possible with milling. That same radio knob may have a detailed texture where it will be gripped by fingers. All these components must be developed and evaluated before they can be released for production, and we use 3D printing to make that a reality.”
“Prior to 3D printing, the only way to achieve such a part would have been to mold and machine the part by hand — a much more labor-intensive, time-consuming and less-accurate process,” he said.
Today’s 3D printers use various materials, most commonly plastic or polymer spooled filaments in various colors, but also powders, paper and metals.
In the 21st century, 3D printing started to become more affordable and accessible for personal use.
In 2005, Dr. Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath in England started the RepRap Project, an open-source (freely shared, not proprietary) initiative to create a 3D printer capable of printing most of its own components so the machines could be widely replicated.
The goal of the project was to “democratize” manufacturing by distributing RepRap machines inexpensively to individuals so they could use them to make common products by themselves. Darwin, RepRap’s first self-replicating printer, came out in 2008.
In 2009, Brooklyn-based MakerBot Industries (acquired by Stratasys in 2013) offered do-it-yourself kits for building personal 3D printers. Hillel Day School uses a $2,000 MakerBot Replicator 2X desktop model and has several 3D pens for small projects. Innovation Director Trevett Allen says he and students plan to build a larger 3D printer from a kit in the near future for an estimated $900.
Earlier this year, MakerBot started selling printers at Home Depot stores in three states, and a small Cube desktop printer from 3D Systems retails for $999.
Coinciding with affordable desktop 3D printers aimed at the general public from various companies comes the maker movement and makerspaces. Makers — those interested in do-it-yourself creation in a variety of fields — work together in collaborative spaces using shared technology and equipment.
3D printing and makers are a perfect storm for democratization of this technology, combining entrepreneurship, creativity, education, shared ideals and the science that makes it all possible.
Open-source “fab labs,” do-it-yourself factories where ordinary people can turn their ideas or those widely shared for free online into products using 3D printing, laser cutters and other tools, have sprung up around the world, including in Detroit.
Fitting right in with the city’s industrial roots and its energized entrepreneurial spirit, Blair Evans, through his organization Incite Focus, opened a fab lab in 2010 at one of the Detroit charter schools for troubled children he supervises as superintendent. In partnership with Automation Alley in Troy, Incite Focus offers job-training skills that teach about work environments and give participants tools for bringing the most value to companies.
Evans also is part of a global team running the Fab Academy, started by his alma mater, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through its Fab Lab Network, the academy offers classes, certificates and diplomas via online videos and lectures from global instructors, combined with hands-on instruction and collaboration in associated fab labs around the world.
On Nov. 17, Evans will be a keynote speaker at the DigiFab Con in Baltimore, which will focus on 3D printing, manufacturing, business development, education and community building.
Area schools and colleges are using 3D printers as educational tools as well. For example, Farmington Public Schools has printers in all of its high schools. For a small materials fee of about $50, Michigan State University and University of Michigan, among other in-state colleges, offer 3D printing to all students and faculty (and often the public).
Printing service sites, such as Shapeways or Sculpteo, allow creators to open stores on their sites, usually for a commission, so consumers can purchase — and customize — 3D-printed designs that include jewelry, home decor and much more.
At Dasi Solutions in Pontiac, you can buy a Stratasys desktop 3D printer — or larger printers designed for industry. Or you might use the company’s 3D studio to test out a printer by making a rapid prototyping model of a business idea.
Owner David Darbyshire joined the Michigan Israel Business Bridge (MIBB) because of its link to Automation Alley — and because of Stratasys’ Israeli connections. When Gov. Rick Snyder went with the MIBB on a trade mission to Israel in 2013, he handed out USB drives printed on Dasi Solution’s 3D printers.
Although Darbyshire doesn’t see 3D printing as the next industrial revolution, as it sometimes is called, he said, “I believe 3D printing is the catalyst for the entrepreneur revolution because 3D printing brings a wide range of manufacturing capabilities to the common person. It allows them to experiment with manufacturing on a small scale. I think it will change how on-demand products are delivered to the consumer.”
To illustrate his point, he tells of an employee with a broken plastic switch on his lawn mower. The man designed the switch and created one on a printer at work.
“A dealer would never have to stock replacement parts,” Darbyshire said. “One could be printed on-site from John Deere on demand.”
Repairing The World
Aside from revolutionizing manufacturing on grand and individual scales, 3D printing and associated technology also is making the world a better place.
Israel hosted its first Tikkun Olam Make-A-Thon (TOM) June 29-July 1 at the new Nazareth Industrial Park. Sponsored by the Reut Institute in Tel Aviv and the Schusterman Family Foundation’s Connection Points program, the three-day event gathered 120 creators from six countries to use 3D printing and design to address the needs of people with disabilities.
A dozen teams created 14 products collaboratively, all with a “need knower” (doctor, nurse or disabled individual with deep knowledge about the challenges people face) on board.
Products included a prosthetic hand for an Israeli boy, a mind-controlled robotic arm, a solution for moving back and forth from wheelchair to floor, a kit to let a disabled child play as a soccer goalkeeper, a customizable tablet keyboard, a tool to hammer a nail with one hand, a hat for a blind person that allows them to avoid indoor walls and customized shoes for people with disabilities.
“You create the right environment with the right people, and you don’t really know what will happen,” said Arnon Zamir of Tel Aviv, co-founder of TOM. “We created conditions for good things to happen and then supported it. All that we created is now in the public domain and published on the Internet afterward so no one can patent it” — and all can use it.
It seems to have had success. At the end of November, another Tikkun Olam Make-A-Thon will be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Next March, a second TOM Israel will be held in Tel Aviv.
Although not all participants at this summer’s TOM were Jewish, the event clearly had roots in Jewish values.
“In the most direct way, the Reut Institute and Schusterman both are Jewish institutes with great interpretations of tikkun olam,” Zamir said.
“On a deeper level, it is very likely for such things to come from Israel because of the Jewish understanding of our place in this world. Part of what we are obliged to do is to leave the world a better place than we found it.
“And on a practical approach,” he said, “Israel is full of innovation, a very technologically innovative country. We are extremely successful in harnessing the ‘startup nation’ spirit for innovation for tikkun olam issues.”
Zamir’s other hat is as COO of XLN (Cross Lab Network), whose mission is to open a chain of affordable makerspaces across the Jewish State. Five are open already. This communal model requires no registration and offers tools, systems and support to help you do what you want with your idea, Zamir said.
It’s an interesting goal for the Reut Institute, an apolitical nonprofit policy group focused on Israel’s national security and the Israel 15 Vision that calls for Israel to become one of the 15 leading countries in terms of quality of life in 15 years, among other objectives.
“This is a revolution — industrial, educational and personally,” Zamir said. “[3D printing] is a collaborative tool, an investigative tool. It places the teacher as the enabler, not the source of knowledge. People use their creativity to gain creative confidence. We are developing educational programs for 3D printing and other technology and running them in schools in Israel.”
Zamir easily puts 3D printing in perspective.
“Look around for the next step for 3D as it becomes more accessible,” he said. “As printers become easier to utilize, people are finding new uses for them.
“It’s like with computers in the early 1980s. At first, they were considered something you needed at a bank or an accounting firm. Once they became accessible, easy and affordable, people are using them for everything. Now you can’t do anything unless you’re online. To some extent, 3D printing is like that.” RT
3D Printing Marvels
- A 3D printed bust and face mask of President Obama, made with help from a 3D scanner, is the first such portrait of a sitting president to be added to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
- Several U.S. art museums are now exhibiting 3D-printed sculpture.
- At the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September, Local Motors 3D printed a plastic car called the Strati (Italian for layers) that will able to be totally customized.
- The 3D printing of workable weapons has prompted ethical discussions and possible legislation in the U.S.
- The U.S. Army uses 3D printers on its frontlines to replicate needed parts cheaply and efficiently.
- Students at Michigan Technological University in Houghton added solar panels to portable 3D printers for use in remote Third World regions. Elsewhere, others invented compact 3D-printable solar panels that are affordable and efficient.
- Edible food has been printed by 3D printers. NASA is working on creating pizzas printable in space.
- Medicine is being transformed by 3D printing. Recently in Beijing, doctors inserted a 3D-printed vertebrae (made of bio “ink” made of living cells) into a 12-year-old boy with cancer. In 2001, the first 3D-printed prosthetic jaw was implanted in the Netherlands. Customized hearing aids produced by 3D printers have been made for a while. Elsewhere, researchers are working on 3D-bioprinted ears and a windpipe. Eventually, bio tissues will be developed to create usable organs. Currently, doctors can 3D scan a patient’s heart or other organ and use an exact replica to find ways to repair the real one.
- Through e-Nable, a worldwide volunteer network, people are printing prosthetic arms and hands for people they don’t even know for about $50 for each device — and then sharing the computer files so others can adapt them.
- In dental work, 3D printers are able to print implant guides for dentists and soon Robert Stern of Oak Park and his partner Eyal Dolev of Ann Arbor will partner locally with Israeli company, Fusion, to produce precise crown and bridge components using metal 3D printers.
- A designer recently printed a kippah made of interlocking Jewish stars on a 3D printer — and is selling them online.
- A Latvian company produced Airdog, a 3D-printed drone that follows extreme sports enthusiasts to take ultimate selfies.
- In Bahrain, large-scale 3D printing using sandstone-like material yielded coral-shaped structures to heal damaged reefs.
By Keri Guten Cohen, Story Development Editor